Barbro Kvåle, a 22-year-old Norwegian junior world champion in ski orienteering, joined the ranks of national-team stars Therese Johaug and Marit Bjørgen, who won the Beitostølen distances races this weekend. On Sunday, Kvåle, now on Norway’s U23 cross-country team, came from behind to win the women’s 1.2-kilometer classic sprint by three-tenths of a second.
With meters to go in the final, she passed Norway’s Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes to seize the early season International Ski Federation (FIS) victory in 2:56.8. Gjeitnes, 29, took second and Kvåle’s best friend Kathrine Harsem was third just 0.2 seconds later.
“She’s a really laid-back personality,” Harsem said of Kvåle to NRK. “She’s a really good friend, and we can talk about everything, or nothing at all. As a skier, she’s just amazing on the mental level.”
Norwegian Olympic gold-and-silver medalist Ingvild Flugstad Østberg finished fourth, 0.9 seconds after Kvåle. A previous winner of Beitostølen’s classic sprint (in treacherous conditions), Slovenia’s World Cup sprinter Katja Visnar placed fifth (+4.9), 1 second ahead of Germany’s Victoria Carl.
Kvåle, who qualified 15th out of 42 women — nearly 6 seconds behind Visnar as the qualifier winner (in 2:48.91) — had never been in a sprint final before, and certainly not with an Olympic champion or World Cup favorite.
“This was insanely fun. I just wanted to go for it,” Kvåle told NRK. “I know I have a strong sprint finish, but I never imagined that I would actually win.”
When asked if she could describe the feeling, she simply said, “No.”
“I know I have a strong sprint finish, but I never imagined that I would actually win.” — Barbro Kvåle, 22-year-old Norwegian U23 team member, after winning Sunday’s classic sprint in Beitostølen
In her last season as a U23, her larger goals this season involve U23 World Championships in Kazakhstan.
A member of Norway’s rookie team, she said she’s always playing catchup with the veterans.
“In all the hard sessions, I’ve gotten beaten,” she told NRK. “But I have come closer and closer in autumn..”
Asked if this was her biggest win so far, she said: “Yes! Are you crazy?”
Harsem said Kvåle likes putting herself out there on social media.
“She posts a lot of self-promoting stuff on Instagram and Twitter, which people in general thinks is really stupid. But I kind of like it, because she dares to be herself,” Harsem said. “She’s honest and loyal, not your typical girly-girl. She’s a bit tomboy-ish, and I like that.”
Østberg, who dominated all the heats and looked like she had the victory in the bag leading the final six women into the stadium, was outsprinted on the final meters. She was less than a second behind Kvåle, but ended up fourth and couldn’t disguise her disappointment.
“I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed,” Østberg said. ‘The three other girls were stronger than me. I guess I’m not meant to be on the podium at Beitostølen.”
She placed fifth in Saturday’s 10 k freestyle — her first FIS race of the season.
“I haven’t usually been in perfect sprint shape early in the season, so I have to look forward,” Østberg added. “There are new races next week. I will have to try to dig deeper and find that little extra as the season progresses.”
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.